Word was the Lady in Gray wanted to meet. She’s my counterpart at our cross-town rival, the Obscura, or whatever it’s called, and she thought it would be interesting if we reviewed a place together. She made reservations at the new Pearl Street Steak Room. I got there early and sat with my back to the wall so she didn’t get the drop on me.
This is a fancy place with prices to match. It’s the kind of joint where high rollers entertain clients with Unobtanium card expense accounts, not batting an eye at premium Wagyu steaks for two at $89 a pop.
True to its “room” moniker, this is a small, cozy space with alligator-pattern red banquettes, white wallpaper with circular patterns, and all-out retro ambience. I half expected Don Draper to come sauntering by when in walked this sharp-looking dame in gray, and I knew it was her. Liz was her name, and I figured I’d met my match when she ordered her smooth $8 martini extra dirty and didn’t flinch when I suggested the $11 chicken-fried sweetbread starter. Any woman who doesn’t shy away from possibly eating thymus glands is OK with me.
We parted company on these savory sweet morsels, though. I dug the breading and apple cream sauce dotted with crisp-tender pea shoots.
I thought these were smart adornments to tempt the uninitiated, while Liz felt these additions knocked it out of whack. Our detail-oriented server confirmed my suspicions; they were trying to take a more user-friendly approach with this preparation, so score one for Fong.
Next up was the $10 Caesar, a deconstructed job, which means the romaine, anchovy and croutons were stacked into neat little piles. The dressing packed a creamy punch, and the high point was a thick chunk of house-cured Berkshire pork, top-shelf bacon. Smart cookie Liz asked if she could get a plateful of pork for herself.
Our $7 sides were spiffed-up takes on steakhouse staples. You can’t go wrong with the truffled fries, which deliver earthy flavor and sticky cheese. We also sampled creamed greens, enriched by what our server called a flourless béchamel. Not as creamy as dairy-heavy versions, these greens did have more complex texture and flavor than run-of-the-mill spinach.
We could have had chicken or fish, but the label here is steak room. Although a .38 snubnose is my usual choice, our server gave us our pick of knives — I grabbed a pearl-handled shiv. Liz went for the $41, 14-ounce, prime Holstein New York Strip. It was unquestionably tasty and tender, but the Aussie Wagyu, specifically the $48 eight-ounce filet, scored the bovine TKO. Both were grain-finished, thick and perfectly cooked to requested doneness. The Down Under slab was buttery in both flavor and texture thanks to this breed’s unfettered marbling, and sweeter and more tender than the Holstein.
There’s no question the kitchen cooks a mean steak, and sure, Wagyu’s rare around here. But at these prices, I want utterly over-the-top presentation, or barring that, what some fancy pants might call a mythos. Brooklyn’s Peter Luger’s gets away with sky-high prices because Jimmy Cagney ate there, ditto L.A.’s Pacific Dining Car, a hangout for real-life noir figures like mobster Mickey Cohen.
As for the Lady in Gray, we possibly ate pancreas, and I’ll be seeing her around.